Friday 3 April 2020

Astronomy in the North West #3 April 3rd 1879 Death of Astronomer and MP Isaac Fletcher

Astronomy in the North West #3 April 3rd 1879 Death of Astronomer and MP Isaac Fletcher

Isaac Fletcher 1827-1879

Isaac Fletcher MP died on April 3rd 1879, he committed suicide in Morley’s Hotel, Trafalgar Square in London. An amateur astronomer, he was the MP for Cockermouth, his business interest involved coal and iron works, in Cumberland. He was born at Greysowthen a village between Cockermouth and Workington, he was educated in York and Tottenham, he married in 1861 and in 1869 he became MP for Cockermouth.

Fletcher owned a 9.4 inch Thomas Cooke telescope which had originally been made for John Fletcher Miller (1816-1856) in 1851 and who lived at Whitehaven, they were friends and when Miller died the 9.4 inch Cooke passed to Fletcher in 1856.

His main interest was in double stars for which he used the 9.4 inch Cooke, although it does appear that when he observed a star close to the star Procyon in 1853 but did not realise what it was the companion star. Procyon is the brightest star in the constellation of Canis Minor the small dog. The companion star to Procyon is often called Procyon B, it  is a small white dwarf star. It would be discovered in 1896. Among the work that Fletcher undertook included making a new version of the Bedford catalogue of double stars. His astronomical work with double stars did slow down but did not stop after he became an M P.

Fletcher was an M P for the Liberal Party, his death came as a shock to all his friends and family as there was no indication of any problems in his life. He was discovered at the Morley Hotel after a gunshot was heard at around 5 pm on the evening of April 3rd . Mr Mills the divisional police surgeon discovered the body and he confirmed that Fletcher had shot himself in the head with a revolver. His death threw quite a gloom over the House of Commons.

After his death the 9.4 inch Cooke passed to Mr Samuel Chatwood of Manchester it appears that the telescope was little used. It was then sold to the Wanganui Astronomical Society in New Zealand where it is still in use today.

Isaac Fletcher's observatory and house at Tarn Bank

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